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March 3, 2009, 12:38 a.m.

Google exec, NYT go hyper-local

There’s an interesting battle shaping up in the “hyper-local” online journalism market, at least in the New York and New Jersey area. The New York Times confirmed on Monday that it is launching a new project called The Local, in co-operation with journalism students at the City University of New York. The network of local blog sites will reportedly start with Clinton Hill and Fort Greene in Brooklyn and Maplewood, Millburn and South Orange in New Jersey, and will apparently cover the usual neighbourhood fare such as schools, restaurants, crime and government. After the launch was mentioned by a local blog called Brownstoner (and also by PaidContent), blogger and journalism prof Jeff Jarvis wrote a post describing how he was working on a local-blogging project and happened to run into someone from the NYT, and the two agreed to co-operate on a joint venture. As Jarvis describes it:

In each of these two pilots, they’ll have one journalist reporting but also working with the community in new ways. The Times’ goal, like ours, is to create a scalable platform (not just in terms of technology but in terms of support) to help communities organize their own news and knowledge. The Times needs this to be scalable; it can’t afford to – no metro paper can or has ever been able to afford to – pay for staff in every neighborhood.

A spirited battle subsequently broke out in the comments section of Jarvis’s post, and on Twitter, between the blogger and Howard Owens — the former head of digital media for GateHouse Media (which recently settled a contentious lawsuit with the New York Times over one of the “hyper-local” sites run by Boston.com). Owens said he was skeptical of the plan, in part because of the failure of previous local journalism networks such as Backfence and YourHub, and made the point that local staff need to be in each community. Jarvis and Owens then got into a debate over (I think) whether the staff working for such a hyper-local site should be primarily professional journalists or people who emerge from the community itself.

That isn’t the only battle over this particular hyper-local effort: As Jarvis noted in his post, another local journalism network called Patch is targeting the exact same locations in New Jersey — and it happens to be backed by Google executive Tim Armstrong. In his bio on the Patch site, it says:

Tim believes that Patch should be in every community in America, and wants Patch in his town. He wants to read local news stories done by journalists, make sure that local government is transparent and accountable, see all the ways he can give back to his community, and have his town be as interesting and alive online as it is offline. Tim is also a believer in American ingenuity and knows that products like Patch will help deliver a commercially viable way for communities to support the important work of local journalists, institutions, governments, and businesses.

I wrote about another experiment in hyper-local journalism — or what project founder Leonard Witt calls “representative journalism” — in a recent Nieman Lab post. Much like the NYT plan, Witt’s project involves a trained journalist or intern writing news about a region as the core of a site that is also built up of contributions from community members of all kinds.

So who will win the hyper-local battle? In his blog post about the NYT project, Jeff Jarvis says that he hopes the different players can collaborate and cross-promote each other. But judging by the recent lawsuit between GateHouse and the Times over their local sites, which Howard Owens provides some perspective on in a recent post, that kind of peaceful outcome may not be possible. Journalistic outlets are moving to a hyper-local model in part because they believe it is one of the few places where advertising might still be able to support a viable media business. Only time will tell whether they are right or not, and who will ultimately benefit.

POSTED     March 3, 2009, 12:38 a.m.
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